Friday, November 27, 2015
The Mythology of Samson by Thomas William Doane 1882
SAMSON AND HIS EXPLOITS by Thomas William Doane 1882
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This Israelite hero is said to have been born at a time when the children of Israel were in the hands of the Philistines. His mother, who had been barren for a number of years, is entertained by an angel, who informs her that she shall conceive, and bear a son, and that the child shall be a Nazarite unto God, from the womb, and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hands of the Philistines.
According to the prediction of the angel, "the woman bore a son, and called his name Samson; and the child grew, and the Lord blessed him."
"And Samson (after he had grown to man's estate), went down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines. And he came up and told his father and his mother, and said, I have seen a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore get her for me to wife."
Samson's father and mother preferred that he should take a woman among the daughters of their own tribe, but Samson wished for the maid of the Philistines, "for," said he, "she pleaseth me well."
The parents, after coming to the conclusion that it was the will of the Lord, that he should marry the maid of the Philistines, consented.
"Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother, to Timnath, and came to the vineyards of Timnath, and, behold, a young lion roared against him (Samson). And the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and he rent him (the lion) as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand."
This was Samson's first exploit, which he told not to any one, not even his father, or his mother.
He then continued on his way, and went down and talked with the woman, and she pleased him well.
And, after a time, he returned to take her, and he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and behold, "there was a swarm of bees, and honey, in the carcass of the lion."
Samson made a feast at his wedding, which lasted for seven days. At this feast, there were brought thirty companions to be with him, unto whom he said: "I will now put forth a riddle unto you, if ye can certainly declare it me, within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty sheets, and thirty changes of garments. But, if ye cannot declare it me, then shall ye give me thirty sheets, and thirty changes of garments." And they said unto him, "Put forth thy riddle, that we may hear it." And he answered them: "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness."
This riddle the thirty companions could not solve.
"And it came to pass, on the seventh day, that they said unto Samson's wife: 'Entice thy husband, that he may declare unto us the riddle.'"
She accordingly went to Samson, and told him that he could not love her; if it were so, he would tell her the answer to the riddle. After she had wept and entreated of him, he finally told her, and she gave the answer to the children of her people. "And the men of the city said unto him, on the seventh day, before the sun went down, 'What is sweeter than honey, and what is stronger than a lion?'"
Samson, upon hearing this, suspected how they managed to find out the answer, whereupon he said unto them: "If ye had not ploughed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle"
Samson was then at a loss to know where to get the thirty sheets, and the thirty changes of garments; but, "the spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon, and slew thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and gave change of garments unto them which expounded the riddle."
This was the hero's second exploit.
His anger being kindled, he went up to his father's house, instead of returning to his wife.' But it came to pass, that, after a while, Samson repented of his actions, and returned to his wife's house, and wished to go in to his wife in the chamber; but her father would not suffer him to go. And her father said: "I verily thought that thou hadst utterly hated her, therefore, I gave her to thy companion. Is not her younger sister fairer than she? Take her, I pray thee, instead of her."
This did not seem to please Samson, even though the younger was fairer than the older, for he "went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned (the foxes) tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails. And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burned up both the shocks and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives."
This was Samson's third exploit.
When the Philistines found their corn, their vineyards, and their olives burned, they said: "Who hath done this?"
"And they answered, 'Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he had taken his wife, and given her to his companion.' And the Philistines came up, and burned her and her father with fire. And Samson said unto them: 'Though ye have done this, yet will I be avenged of you, and after that I will cease.' And he smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter, and he went and dwelt in the top of the rock Etam."
This "great slaughter" was Samson's fourth exploit.
"Then the Philistines went up, and pitched in Judah, and spread themselves in Lehi. And the men of Judah said: 'Why are ye come up against us?' And they answered: 'To bind Samson are we come up, and to do to him as he hath done to us' Then three thousand men of Judah went up to the top of the rock Etam, and said to Samson: 'Knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us? What is this that thou hast done unto us?' And he said unto them: 'As they did unto me, so have I done unto them.' And they said unto him: 'We are come down to bind thee, that we may deliver thee into the hands of the Philistines.' And Samson said unto them: 'Swear unto me that ye will not fall upon me yourselves.' And they spake unto him, saying, 'No; but we will bind thee fast, and deliver thee into their hands: but surely we will not kill thee.' And they bound him with two new cords, and brought him up from the rock. And when he came unto Lehi, the Philistines shouted against him; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burned with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands. And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand and took it, and slew a thousand men with it."
This was Samson's fifth exploit.
After slaying a thousand men he was "sore athirst," and called unto the Lord. And "God clave a hollow place that was in the jaw, and there came water thereout, and when he had drunk, his spirit came again, and he revived."
"Then went Samson to Gaza and saw there a harlot, and went in unto her. And it was told the Gazites, saying, 'Samson is come hither.' And they compassed him in, and laid wait for him all night in the gate of the city, and were quiet all the night, saying: 'In the morning, when it is day, we shall kill him.' And Samson lay (with the harlot) till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of a hill that is in Hebron."
This was Samson's sixth exploit.
"And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Soreck, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and said unto her: 'Entice him, and see wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him.'"
Delilah then began to entice Samson to tell her wherein his strength lay.
"She pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death. Then he told her all his heart, and said unto her: 'There hath not come a razor upon mine head, for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother's womb. If I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.' And when Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she went and called for the lords of the Philistines, saying: 'Come up this once, for he hath showed me all his heart.' Then the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and brought money in their hands (for her).
"And she made him (Samson) sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him."
The Philistines then took him, put out his eyes, and put him in prison. And being gathered together at a great sacrifice in honor of their God, Dagon, they said: "Call for Samson, that he may make us sport." And they called for Samson, and he made them sport.
"And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand, Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house standcth, that I may lean upon them.
"Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport.
"And Samson called unto the Lord, and said: 'O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.'
"And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said: 'Let me die with the Philistines' And he bowed himself with all his might; and (having regained his strength) the house fell upon the lords, and upon the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death, were more than they which he slew in his life."
Thus ended the career of the "strong man" of the Hebrews.
That this story is a copy of the legends related of Hercules, or that they have both been copied from similar legends existing among some other nations,' is too evident to be disputed. Many churchmen have noticed the similarity between the history of Samson and that of Hercules. In Chambers's Encylopsedia, under "Samson," we read as follows:
"It has been matter of most contradictory speculations, how far his existence is to be taken as a reality, or, in other words, what substratum of historical truth there may be in this supposed circle of popular legends, artistically rounded off, in the four chapters of Judges which treat of him. . . .
"The miraculous deeds he performed have taxed the ingenuity of many commentators, and the text has been twisted and turned in all directions, to explain, rationally, his slaying those prodigious numbers single-handed; his carrying the gates of Gaza, in one night, a distance of about fifty miles, &c. &c."
That this is simply a Solar myth, no one will doubt, we believe, who will take the trouble to investigate it.
Prof. Goldziher, who has made "Comparative Mythology" a special study, says of this story:
"The most complete and rounded-off Solar myth extant in Hebrew, is that of Shimshon (Samson), a cycle of mythical conceptions fully comparable with the Greek myth of Hercules."
We shall now endeavor to ascertain if such is the case, by comparing the exploits of Samson with those of Hercules.
The first wonderful act performed by Samson was, as we have seen, that of slaying a lion. This is said to have happened when he was but a youth. So likewise was it with Hercules. At the age of eighteen, he slew an enormous lion.
The valley of Nemea was infested by a terrible lion; Eurystheus ordered Hercules to bring him the skin of this monster. After using in vain his club and arrows against the lion, Hercules strangled the animal with his hands. He returned, carrying the dead lion on his shoulders; but Eurystheus was so frightened at the sight of it, and at this proof of the prodigious strength of the hero, that he ordered him to deliver the accounts of his exploits in the future outside the town.
To show the courage of Hercules, it is said that he entered the cave where the lion's lair was, closed the entrance behind him, and at once grappled with the monster.
Samson is said to have torn asunder the jaws of the lion, and we find him generally represented slaying the beast in that manner. So likewise was this the manner in which Hercules disposed of the Nemean lion.
The skin of the lion, Hercules tore off with his fingers, and knowing it to be impenetrable, resolved to wear it henceforth. The statues and paintings of Hercules either represent him carrying the lion's skin over his arm, or wearing it hanging down his back, the skin of its head fitting to his crown like a cap, and the fore-legs knotted under his chin.
Samson's second exploit was when he went down to Ashkelon and slew thirty men.
Hercules, when returning to Thebes from the lion-hunt, and wearing its skin hanging from his shoulders, as a sign of his success, met the heralds of the King of the Minyae, coming from Orchomenos to claim the annual tribute of a hundred cattle, levied on Thebes. Hercules cut off the ears and noses of the heralds, bound their hands, and sent them home.
Samson's third exploit was when he caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned them tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails, and let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines.
There is no such feature as this in the legends of Hercules, the nearest to it in resemblance is when he encounters and kills the Learnean Hydra. During this encounter a fire-brand figures conspicuously, and the neighboring wood is set on fire.
We have, however, an explanation of this portion of the legend, in the following from Prof. Steinthal:
At the festival of Ceres, held at Rome, in the month of April, a fox-hunt through the circus was indulged in, in which burning torches were bound to the foxes' tails
This was intended to be a symbolical reminder of the damage done to the fields by mildew, called the "redfox," which was exorcised in various ways at this momentous season (the last third of April). It is the time of the Dog-Star, at which the mildew was most to be feared; if at that time great solar heat follows too close upon the hoar-frost or dew of the cold nights, this mischief rages like a burning fox through the corn-fields.
He also says that:
"This is the sense of the story of the foxes, which Samson caught and sent into the Philistines' fields, with fire-brands fastened to their tails, to burn the crops. Like the lion, the fox is an animal that indicated the solar heat, being well suited for this both by its color and by its long-haired tail."
Bouchart, in his "Hierozoicon," observes that:
"At this period (i.e., the last third of April) they cut the corn in Palestine and Lower Egypt, and a few days after the setting of the Hyads arose the Fox, in whose train or tail comes the fires or torches of the dog-days, represented among the Egyptians by red marks painted on the backs of their animals."
Count de Volney also tells us that:
"The inhabitants of Carseoles, an ancient city of Latium, every year, in a religious festival, burned a number of foxes with torches tied to their tails. They gave, as the reason for this whimsical ceremony, that their corn had been formerly burnt by a fox to whose tail a young man had fastened a bundle of lighted straw."
He concludes his account of this peculiar "religious festival," by saying:
"This is exactly the story of Samson with the Philistines, but it is a Phenician tale. Car-Seol is a compound word in that tongue, signifying town of foxes. The Philistines, originally from Egypt, do not appear to have had any colonies. The Phoenicians had a great many; and it can scarcely be admitted that they borrowed this story from the Hebrews, as obscure as the Druses are in our own times, or that a simple adventure gave rise to a religious ceremony; it evidently can only be a mythological and allegorical narration."
So much, then, for the foxes and fire-brands.
Samson's fourth exploit was when he smote the Philistines "hip and thigh," "with great slaughter."
It is related of Hercules that he had a combat with an army of Centaurs, who were armed with pine sticks, rocks, axes, &c. They flocked in wild confusion, and surrounded the cave of Pholos, where Hercules was, when a violent fight ensued. Hercules was obliged to contend against this large armed force single-handed, but he came off victorious, and slew a great number of them. Hercules also encountered and fought against an army of giants, at the Phlegraean fields, near Cumae.
Samson's next wonderful exploit was when "three thousand men of Judah" bound him with cords and brought him up into Lehi, when the Philistines were about to take his life. The cords with which he was bound immediately became as flax, and loosened from off his hands. He then, with the jaw-bone of an ass, slew one thousand Philistines."
A very similar feature to this is found in the history of Hercules. He is made prisoner by the Egyptians, who wish to take his life, but while they are preparing to slay him, he breaks loose his bonds—having been tied with cords—and kills Buseris, the leader of the band, and the whole retinue.
On another occasion, being refused shelter from a storm at Kos, he was enraged at the inhabitants, and accordingly destroyed the whole town.
Samson, after he had slain a thousand Philistines, was "sore athirst," and called upon Jehovah, his father in heaven, to succor him, whereupon, water immediately gushed forth from "a hollow place that was in the jaw-bone."
Hercules, departing from the Indies (or rather Ethiopia), and conducting his army through the desert of Lybia, feels a burning thirst, and conjures Ihou, his father, to succor him in his danger.
Instantly the (celestial) Ram appears. Hercules follows him and arrives at a place where the Ram scrapes with his foot, and there instantly comes forth a spring of water.
Samson's sixth exploit happened when he went to Gaza to visit a harlot. The Gazites, who wished to take his life, laid wait for him all night, but Samson left the town at midnight, and took with him the gates of the city, and the two posts, on his shoulders. He carried them to the top of a hill, some fifty miles away, and left them there.
This story very much resembles that of the "Pillars of Hercules," called the "Gates of Cadiz."
Count de Volney tells us that:
"Hercules was represented naked, carrying on his shoulders two columns called the Gates of Cadiz."
"The Pillars of Hercules" was the name given by the ancients to the two rocks forming the entrance or gate to the Mediterranean at the Strait of Gibraltar. Their erection was ascribed by the Greeks to Hercules, on the occasion of his journey to the kingdom of Geryon. According to one version of the story, they had been united, but Hercules tore them asunder.
J. P. Lundy says of this:
"Hercules carrying his two columns to erect at the Straits of Gibraltar, may have some reference to the Hebrew story."
We think there is no doubt of it. By changing the name Hercules into Samson, the legend is complete.
Sir William Drummond tells us, in his "OEdipus Judaicus," that:
"Gaza signifies a Goat, and was the type of the Sun in Capricorn. The Gate of the Sun were feigned by the ancient Astronomers to be in Capricorn and Cancer (that is, in Gaza), from which signs the tropics are named. Samson carried away the gates from Gaza to Hebron, the city of conjunction. Now, Count Gebelin tells us that at Cadiz, where Hercules was anciently worshiped, there was a representation of him, with a gate on his shoulders."
The stories of the amours of Samson with Delilah and other females, are simply counterparts of those of Hercules with Omphale and Iole. Montfaucon, speaking of this, says:
"Nothing is better known in the fables (related of Hercules) than his amours with Omphale and Iole."
Prof. Steinthal says:
"The circumstance that Samson is so addicted to sexual pleasure, has its origin In the remembrance that the Solar god is the god of fruit fulness and procreation. We have as examples, the amours of Hercules and Omphale; Ninyas, in Assyria, with Semiramis; Samson, in Philistia, with Delila, whilst among the Phenicians, Melkart pursues Dido-Anna."
Samson is said to have had long hair. "There hath not come a razor upon my head," says he, "for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother's womb."
Now, strange as it may appear, Hercules is said to have had long hair also, and he was often represented that way. In Montfaucon's "L'Antiquity Expliquee" may be seen a representation of Hercules with hair reaching almost to his waist. Almost all Sun-gods are represented thus."
Prof. Goldzhier says:
"Long locks of hair and a long beard are mythological attributes of the Sun. The Sun's rays are compared with locks of hair on the face or head of the Sun.
"When the sun sets and leaves his place to the darkness, or when the powerful Summer Sun is succeeded by the weak rays of the Winter Sun, then Samson's long locks, in which alone his strength lies, are cut off through the treachery of his deceitful concubine, Delilah, the 'languishing, languid,' according to the meaning of the name (Delilah). The Beaming Apollo, moreover, is called the Unshaven; and Minos cannot conquer the solar hero Nisos, till the latter loses his golden hair."
Through the influence of Delilah, Samson is at last made a prisoner. He tells her the secret of his strength, the seven locks of hair are shaven off, and his strength leaves him. The shearing of the locks of the Sun must be followed by darkness and ruin.
From the shoulders of Phoibos Lykegenes flow the sacred locks, over which no razor might pass, and on the head of Nisos they become a palladium, invested with a mysterious power. The long locks of hair which flow over his shoulders are taken from his head by Skylla, while he is asleep, and, like another Delilah, she thus delivers him and his people into the power of Minos."
Prof. Steinthal says of Samson:
"His hair is a figure of increase and luxuriant fullness. In Winter, when nature appears to have lost all strength, the god of growing young life has lost his hair. In the Spring the hair grows again, and nature returns to life again. Of this original conception the Bible story still preserves a trace. Samson's hair, after being cut off, grows again, and his strength comes back with it."
Towards the end of his career, Samson's eyes are put out. Even here, the Hebrew writes with a singular fidelity to the old mythical speech. The tender light of evening is blotted out by the dark vapors; the light of the Sun is quenched in gloom. Samson's eyes are put out.
OEdipus, whose history resembles that of Samson and Hercules in many respects, tears out his eyes, towards the end of his career. In other words, the Sun has blinded himself. Clouds and darkness have closed in about him, and the clear light is blotted out of the heaven.
The final act, Samson's death, reminds us clearly and decisively of the Phenician Hercules, as Sun-god, who died at the Winter Solstice in the furthest West, where his two pillars are set up to mark the end of his wanderings.
Samson also died at the two pillars, but in his case they are not the Pillars of the World, but are only set up in the middle of a great banqueting-hall. A feast was being held in honor of Dagon, the Fish-god; the Sun was in the sign of the Waterman, Samson, the Sun-god, died.
The ethnology of the name of Samson, as well as his adventures, are very closely connected with the Solar Hercules. "Samson" was the name of the Sun. In Arabic, "Shams-on" means the Sun.' Samson had seven locks of hair, the number of the planetary bodies.
The author of "The Religion of Israel," speaking of Samson, says:
"The story of Samson and his deeds originated in a Solar myth, which was afterwards transformed by the narrator into a saga about a mighty hero and deliverer of Israel. The very name 'Samson,' is derived from the Hebrew word, and means 'Sun.' The hero's flowing locks were originally the rays of the sun, and other traces of the old myth have been preserved."
Prof. Oort says:
"The story of Samson is simply a solar myth. In some of the features of the story the original meaning may be traced quite clearly, but in others the myth can no longer be recognized. The exploits of some Danite hero, such as Shamgar, who 'slew six hundred Philistines with an ox-goad' (Judges iii. 31), have been woven into it; the whole has been remodeled after the ideas of the prophets of later ages, and finally, it has been fitted into the framework of the period of the Judges, as conceived by the writer of the book called after them."
Again he says:
"The myth that lies at the foundation of this story is a description of the sun's course duriug the six winter months. The god is gradually encompassed by his enemies, mist and darkness. At first he easily maintains his freedom, and gives glorious proofs of his strength; but the fetters grow stronger and stronger, until at last he is robbed of his crown of rays, and loses all his power and glory. Such is the Sun in Winter. But he has not lost his splendor forever. Gradually his strength returns, at last he reappears; and though he still seems to allow himself to be mocked, yet the power of avenging himself has returned, and in the end he triumphs over his enemies once more."
Other nations beside the Hebrews and Greeks had their "mighty men" and lion-killers. The Hindoos had their Samson. His name was Bala-Rama, the "Strong Soma." He was considered by some an incarnation of Vishnu."
Captain Wilford says, in "Asiatic Researches:"
"The Indian Hercules, according to Cicero, was called Belut. He is the same as Bala, the brother of Crishna, and both are conjointly worshiped at Mutra; indeed, they are considered as one Avatar or Incarnation of Vishnu. Bala is represented as a stout man, with a club in hit hand. He is also called Bala-rama."
There is a Hindoo legend which relates that Sevah had an encounter with a tiger, "whose mouth expanded like a cave, and whose voice resembled thunder." He slew the monster, and, like Hercules, covered himself with the skin.
The Assyrians and Lydians, both Semitic nations, worshiped a Sun-god named Sandan or Sandon. He also was believed to be a lion-killer, and frequently figured struggling with the lion, or standing upon the slain lion.
Ninevah, too, had her mighty hero and king, who slew a lion and other monsters. Layard, in his excavations, discovered a basrelief representation of this hero triumphing over the lion and wild bull.
The Ancient Babylonians had a hero lion-slayer, Izdubar by name. The destruction of the lion, and other monsters, by Izdubar, is often depicted on the cylinders and engraved gems belonging to the early Babylonian monarchy.
Izdubar is represented as a great or mighty man, who, in the early days after the flood, destroyed wild animals, and conquered a number of petty kings. Izdubar resembles the Grecian hero, Hercules, in other respects than as a destroyer of wild animals, &c. We are told that he "wandered to the regions where gigantic composite monsters held and controlled the rising and setting sun, from these learned the road to the region of the blessed, and passing across a great waste of land, he arrived at a region where splendid trees were laden with jewels."
He also resembles Hercules, Samson, and other solar-gods, in the particular of long flowing locks of hair. In the Babylonian and Assyrian sculptures he is always represented with a marked physiognomy, and always indicated as a man with masses of curls over his head and a large curly beard.
Here, evidently, is the Babylonian legend of Hercules. He too was a wanderer, going from the furthest East to the furthest West. He crossed "a great waste of land" (the desert of Lybia), visited "the region of the blessed," where there were "splendid trees laden with jewels " (golden apples).
The ancient Egyptians had their Hercules. According to Herodotus, he was known several thousand years before the Grecian hero of that name. This the Egyptians affirmed, and that he was born in their country.
The story of Hercules was known in the Island of Thasos, by the Phoenician colony settled there, five centuries before he was known in Greece."
Another mighty hero was the Grecian Bellerophon. The minstrels sang of the beauty and the great deeds of Bellerophon throughout all the land of Argos. His arm was strong in battle; his feet were swift in the chase. None that were poor and weak and wretched feared the might of Bellerophon. To them the sight of his beautiful form brought only joy and gladness; but the proud and boastful, the slanderer and the robber, dreaded the glance of his keen eye. For a long time he fought the Solymi and the Amazons, until all his enemies shrank from the stroke of his mighty arm, and sought for mercy."
The second of the principal gods of the Ancient Scandinavians was named Thor, and was no less known than Odin among the Teutonic nations. The Edda calls him expressly the most valiant of the sons of Odin. He was considered the "defender " and "avenger" He always carried a mallet, which, as often as he discharged it, returned to his hand of itself; he grasped it with gauntlets of iron, and was further possessed of a girdle which had the virtue of renewing his strength as often as was needful. It was with these formidable arms that he overthrew to the ground the monsters and giants, when he was sent by the gods to oppose their enemies. He was represented of gigantic size, and as the stoutest and strongest of the gods. Thor was simply the Hercules of the Northern nations. He was the Sun personified.
Without enumerating them, we can safely say, that there was not a nation of antiquity, from the remotest East to the furthest West, that did not have its mighty hero, and counterpart of Hercules and Samson.
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